Want to live completely off the grid in Maryland? Before looking for a property or disconnecting from utilities, make sure you know the laws. It might not be legal to live the type of off grid life you want in Maryland!
Is Living Off-Grid Legal in Maryland?
In many areas of Maryland, living 100% off grid is not legal because laws require you to connect to the municipal sewer or water system. Even in places where off-grid is allowed, you will still have to meet strict building codes, onsite wastewater treatment, and zoning laws. Currently, Garrett County appears to be the best place for off-grid living in Maryland.
Maryland Zoning Laws and Off-Grid Living
Zoning laws ultimately determine what you can legally do on your property in Maryland. As in most of the United States, you can expect most counties in Maryland to have strict zoning laws regarding setbacks, whether livestock or chickens are allowed, and additional dwelling units.
Agricultural zones in Maryland tend to have the least restrictions. However, some of these areas have high minimum lot sizes. Since land in Maryland is expensive, it can be challenging to live off grid on a budget.
Living in a Mobile Home or Manufactured Home in Maryland
Unsurprisingly, it isn’t easy to legally live in a mobile home in Maryland. Some Agricultural or even residential zones allow mobile homes, but with lots of restrictions. For example, Somerset County allows them in some zones but has a minimum floor area of 720 square feet for all new mobile homes.
Can You Camp on Your Own Property?
Under Kent County zoning laws, private and commercial camps are allowed on Agricultural land. You’ll have to dig deeper to find out what requirements you’d need to meet in terms of sewage, water, etc., to legally camp, though.
Maryland is friendly towards tiny home living. They have adopted Appendix Q of the 2018 International Residential Code, which sets standards for homes less than 400 square feet in size. I also found no counties with minimum dwelling sizes in their zoning laws. However, there are minimum lot sizes, so you probably won’t be able to legally put a tiny home on a tiny lot. Likewise, the rules about accessory dwelling units are pretty strict in most areas.
Areas without Zoning in Maryland
Currently, Garrett County is the only county in Maryland without countywide zoning. There is still zoning within the six towns in Garrett and the Deep Creek Watershed, but there is no zoning outside these areas. You still may need to get building permits and will need to meet state codes, but otherwise are free to do whatever you want on your property.
Building Codes in Maryland
Maryland uses statewide building codes, collectively called the Maryland Building Performance Standards. In addition to these, there are also codes relating to plumbing, electric, and other work.
Even if your county does not enforce the codes (though they probably do!), you will still need to meet these building codes. Failure to comply can result in hefty fines. New buildings often require an inspection before getting a “certificate of occupancy,” allowing you to live there legally.
These are the current Maryland building codes:
- 2018 International Building Code (with amendments)
- 2018 International Residential Code (with amendments)
- 2015 Existing Building Code (with amendments)
- 2018 International Plumbing Code (with amendments)
- 2018 International Mechanical Code
- 2018 International Energy Conservation Code (with amendments)
- 2012 International Green Construction Code (with amendments)
- 2018 National Fire Protection Code NFPA 1 (with amendments)
- 2017 National Electrical Code NFPA 70 (with amendments)
Localities are allowed to use stricter codes, but not more lenient ones. You can find local codes here.
Is Primitive Living Legal in Maryland?
If you want to live a primitive off-grid life in Maryland, such as without any electricity or running water, it is illegal. This is because the state building codes require specific amenities. For example, the IRC requires a certain number of electrical receptacles in dwellings. The plumbing code likewise requires certain fixtures.
On top of these codes, many areas require you to get a Certificate of Occupancy before legally living in a new building. This involves inspections for plumbing, electrical, etc. For example, if your home doesn’t have any electrical, you might not get your Certificate.
Maryland also has the “Minimum Livability Code,” which allows the government to condemn buildings that do not meet the standards for human habitation. However, this code does not apply to dwellings where the owner lives. It primarily applies to slumlords.
Off-Grid Electricity in Maryland
While building codes require that you have some form of electricity in Maryland, there is no reason you can’t have off-grid electricity. You will need a permit in almost all cases and a licensed electrician to do the work.
If you want wind power, you’ll need to check with the local zoning laws. Luckily, Maryland is generally pretty up to date in that the zoning laws actually set some standards (in places without standards, it’s up to the zoning board whether they want to approve your project).
In Kent County, MD, for example, the rules for wind turbines in Ag zones are:
- The height of the structure to the tip of the blade at its highest point does not exceed 80 feet.
- Any system is located a minimum of 3 times its total height from a property line.
- Towers are not readily climbable from the ground up to 12 feet.
- All access doors to towers and electrical equipment shall be lockable.
- Appropriate warning signage is placed on the tower and electrical equipment.
- The blade tip at its lowest point had a ground clearance of at least 25 feet.
- Wind turbines and towers maintain a galvanized steel, brushed aluminum finish, or a non garish color.
- Any small wind energy system that is not operational for 12 consecutive months or more shall be removed at the landowner’s expense
Off-Grid Water Laws in Maryland
In many places in Maryland, off-grid water is illegal. You are required to connect to the municipal water supply.
You’ll have to look into the zoning laws carefully to see whether you can have off-grid water. The rules can be confusing and have lots of exceptions.
For example, you can have off-grid water in Agricultural zones in Kent County if you are a single-family dwelling. But two-family dwellings must use public water. In Somerset County, you may need a minimum lot size to have off-grid water.
Who Owns the Water in Maryland?
The state owns all navigable waters in Maryland. However, Maryland recognizes riparian rights, meaning that landowners can use the water on or next to their properties. The use must be reasonable and not impair the rights of other riparian users.
Water Use Permits in Maryland
Because it is a water-rich state, it is easy to use water in Maryland legally. You do not need a permit to use surface or groundwater for domestic purposes. You also do not need a permit for agricultural purposes, so long as your use does not exceed 10,000 gallons per day. Read more about water use permits here.
If you do need a permit, the process involves a lot of paperwork. The waiting time can also be up to 18 months, so you’ll need to plan ahead.
Because Maryland recognizes riparian rights, you can legally use water on your property. If your use exceeds 10,000 gallons per day, you will need to get a water-use permit. In protected areas, you may also need a permit to construct a dam or alter the course of a body of water.
Well Water Laws in Maryland
You need a well construction permit to drill any well in Maryland. A licensed driller must drill all wells.
Note that some areas forbid new wells. For example, with few exceptions, Rockville does not allow new wells in the city. Other places require you to connect to the municipal water and abandon wells. It is still legal to use surface water in these cases, but you will have to pay the water connection fee.
Rainwater Harvesting Laws in Maryland
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Maryland. However, all rainwater harvesting systems must follow the state’s plumbing code requirements. These codes are generally very relaxed, and you should have no problems legally using rainwater for nonpotable outdoor uses, like watering your yard.
However, if you want to use water indoors – even for flushing toilets – you’ll have to meet the stricter requirements for nonpotable water.
Maryland law also states that “a cistern may not be used as a potable water supply.” So, you cannot use rainwater as your home’s primary water source.
Sewage and Waste Removal Laws in Maryland
In many places in Maryland, you are required to connect to the municipal sewer system. This effectively makes it illegal to live 100% off grid in these areas. When private sewage systems are allowed, you will usually be required to have septic.
Rockville – Wastewater originating within buildings of all types, including the interior levels of parking garages, shall be discharged into the City’s sewer system.
No new septic system or cesspool shall be constructed in the City, nor shall existing septic systems or cesspools be replaced or expanded.
Whenever a sewer service line is provided for a property, all plumbing fixtures on the property shall be connected to the public sewer system, and all septic systems, or other private means of wastewater disposal on the property, shall be abandoned in accordance with Montgomery County Guidelines for Septic System Abandonment.
Compost toilets are legal in Maryland. However, if you want to use only a compost toilet, you will encounter many legal issues. The law requires you to get a permit to discharge wastes from a compost toilet to the ground. You also must have an approved system for handling other wastewater, such as from laundry machines or sinks. More on the permit process here.
Are Outhouses Legal in Maryland (Pit and Vault Privies)?
Outhouses are generally not legal in Maryland. They are only allowed in dwellings that do not have water under pressure. The law also says privies are not authorized for new construction.
Do you live off grid in Maryland? Let us know about your experiences in the comments section below.